A town hall for the 21st century: Media Education Foundation reopens its community space

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford formerly worked for National Priorities Project, the Northampton nongovernmental organization founded by the late Greg Speeter, left. She’ll dedicate the reopened community room at the Media Education Foundation on Sunday, Nov. 13. Gazette file photo

  • “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman interviews the late peace activist Frances Crowe in Northampton in 2019. Goodman originally dedicated the Media Education Foundation community room in honor of Crowe. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2022 7:31:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A popular community meeting room at the Media Education Foundation, closed for much of the past eight years, is reopening.

The room originally opened in the early 2000s when MEF, which produces documentary films and other educational resources on a range of social issues, bought and renovated the old Masonic Street fire station. Some of those renovations went toward creating a space for public activities.

Sut Jhally, MEF’s founder and executive director, said he wanted the company to be able to offer a free forum for varied events — film screenings, public talks and meetings — that would benefit local groups that shared MEF’s progressive ideas.

Amy Goodman, the main host of “Democracy Now!,” officially dedicated the 800-square-foot space in 2009 in honor of the late Northampton activist Frances Crowe.

“It became a pretty vital place,” Jhally said in a recent phone call. “It could be in use six days out of the week, and we used it ourselves at times.”

MEF had to close the community room in 2014 when it sold the lower floor of its building to the Woodstar Cafe. But on Sunday, Nov. 13, the room will be officially reopened, with a dedication that will be led by state Sen. Jo Comerford.

Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, will join others in dedicating the space in honor of Crowe and two other late local activists: Greg Speeter, the founder of Northampton’s National Priorities Project, and environmental advocate Marty Nathan.

“The loss of that space in 2014 was a real blow to the activist community,” Comerford says in a brochure about the community room. “The possibility that it could be reopened fills me with great joy and hope about the necessary work that is still required in our precarious times.”

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra will also be on hand at the reopening ceremony, which is free and takes place at 4 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

Jhally said MEF actually began renting the community room a few years ago from Woodstar, making a number of changes to the space such as adding a new film projector and sound system, Zoom capabilities, and a video recording system. But then the pandemic hit, delaying any plans for an actual reopening.

Now he’s looking forward to having the space regularly used again, and a few events have already been staged there. Jhally says he’s also seeking additional funds to offset the cost to MEF of renting the space.

“I think a lot of people are really looking for a restoration of community after all the isolation we’ve gone through with the pandemic,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see the kind of support to make that happen.”

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